Lost in Hebrew Translations

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Charles Newburgh was ever the friend of the immigrant Civil War veteran.  A large percentage of Union soldiers were foreign-born, and some returned to their homelands after the war.  When these soldiers applied to the US Government to receive veteran benefits, many of their submitted documents — pension applications, birth certificates, medical records, etc. — were written in foreign languages, and typically were not accompanied by a translation.  The US Bureau of Pensions, therefore, needed translators to decipher these records so the claims could be processed. Enter Charles Newburgh. Newburgh worked as one of the Bureau’s many translators for German documents being presented in pension claims; he is the only known Hebrew translator. For every ketubah and every synagogue birth record submitted from the late 1880s up until the early 1920s, Newburgh was there.  He helped Jewish soldiers prove the details of their lives so they could receive crucial benefits. Consequently, more than a century later, he continues to help the Shapell Roster Project team.

Perhaps Charles Newburgh helped champion the claims of those immigrants who proudly served their adopted homeland because he was one of them.  Newburgh was born in Oettingen, Bavaria, Germany, on April 27, 1837. He came to America by way of Liverpool, England, on the S. S. City of Philadelphia in 1854, and settled in New York City prior to the war.  Newburgh became an American citizen in 1860, and so answered his new country’s call to arms almost exactly a year later; enlisting in the 7th NY Infantry for 18 months under the name of Otto Zoeller. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, in Henrico County, VA, receiving a gunshot wound in his left arm.  Due to this injury, Newburgh was discharged for disability, and his military career was brought to an end.